“You cheated me! I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field—with honor! That was my destiny, and you cheated me out of it! You understand what I’m saying, Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny. I was Lieutenant Dan Taylor.”

These iconic lines said by Lt. Dan Taylor, played by Gary Sinise, when he was berating Forrest Gump for saving his life in the Vietnam War. To me, this was the most powerful scene in the entire movie, where a soldier in love with the idea of a glorious death in battle was cheated of his chance at immortality in a family tradition of dying in battle.  It also highlights the trauma and frustration some army veterans took home after a tour of duty as Lt. Dan losses both of his legs during the ambush scene in the 1994 film “Forrest Gump,” and try to figure out how to restore some meaning to their lives.

After the movie was filmed, Gary Sinise was heavily moved by his preparation for the film. He read the book “Fortunate Son” by Lewis Puller Jr, a Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography based Puller’s experiences in Vietnam where he lost both of his legs and his left hand. His father, war hero Chesty Puller, is the most decorated Marine in history.

The book and the film changed Gary’s life as he dedicated the majority of his time as a humanitarian, volunteering for U.S military veterans all around the world.

Lt. Dan Outside The Limelight

According to Sinise’s biography, he had started personally advocating for local Vietnam veterans in Chicago during the 80s as he grew up in Illinois. Meeting his wife Moira Harris during his time with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Harris educated Sinise about the World War and the life of army veterans through his brother-in-law, US Army Captain Boyd Harris.

Inspired by Harris’ stories, he adapted a play about the Vietnam War and showed it to all military veterans for free!

He worked for the Disabled Americans Veterans organization after his film work in the legendary 1994 movie, Forrest Gump, being inspired by the film. Today he is still working with the DAV through collaborations and joint projects.

Gary Sinese on Stage with the Lt. Dan Band performing at the Chicago Air and Water Festival in 2008 (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gary_Sinise_on_stage_1.jpg
Gary Sinise on Stage with the Lt. Dan Band performing at the Chicago Air and Water Festival in 2008. Daniel SchwenCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, he formed the Lt. Dan Band with Kimo Williams, which aims to raise money for military veterans and provide entertainment for various branches of the military around the world. He has done this with the United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) to uplift the spirits of US troops abroad.

Outside of the band, he holds the position of national spokesperson for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial and raised funds when the 9/11 attacks shocked the entire nation. This was when he first started institutionalizing his humanitarian work collaborating with the USO. Today, he works with the US government as part of the President’s Advisory Group for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the Community Council for Hope for the Warriors, and the Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors (TAPS).

The Gary Sinise Foundation

As his volunteerism and philanthropy efforts were getting more diversified, he decided to bring his volunteer work under the Gary Sinise Foundation. The organization creates programs for current soldiers, army veterans, and first responders as his own personal way of thanking American troops.

One of their building programs, called “RISE,” focuses on providing technological home renovations and adapted vehicles for military veterans who are partially or fully immobile or paralyzed due to their injuries in the war.

Another of their programs is the “Relief & Resiliency” efforts with Snowball Express, which supports the children and spouses of those left behind by fallen troops. Apart from financial assistance, Sinese partnered with American Airlines and Walt Disney to give program recipients a 5-day pass to Walt Disney World in Florida.

Continuing their outreach, they also have a community and education program which aims to educate people about World War II through the Soaring Valor Program’s living library project with The National WWII Museum. He also hosts the Serving Heroes project, a feeding program for the military going from base to base all across the country.

More than just Lieutenant Dan!

Gary Sinise with Former President George W. Bush after awarding him the 2008 Presidential Citizens Medal. White House photo by Chris Greenberg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s crazy how a book and a supporting role in a film can change your life. With over 40 years of supporting the US Armed Forces behind him, Sinese was awarded the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment in 2007, the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008, and the Spirit of the USO Award in 2009, to name a few. He was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Patriot Award for his outstanding humanitarian work.